Jumping the gender wage gap

Determining the largest hurdle to gender parity in pay (Pixabay)

The disparity between the remuneration of men and women, with women earning less than men on average, defines the gender wage gap as many know it today. Formal studies have existed since the 1970s after long acknowledging concerns that disparities in pay exist. The Equal Pay Act became law in 1963 targeting this issue and required employers to give male and female employees equal pay for equal work, yet equilibrium remains decades away 55 years later.

A considerable amount (or lack), of progress can be attributed to disparities in the growth actually achieved, with countless studies commissioned over four decades to examine the presence and limits of possible salary discrepancies, if any. Investigations often arrive at various “cents-on-the-dollar” comparison figures further confounding progress.

Research conducted on the gender wage gap often differentiates between adjusted and unadjusted pay gaps in their research, resulting in statistics that can range from 77 percent to 91 percent for adjusted pay gaps, according to April Cubbage, sociology professor and department chair of the Gender and Sexuality Studies program at Saddleback College.

“When you hear the often touted 77 cent wage gap, that is including all workers,” Cubbage said. “This could vary from entry-level wage gaps to corporate-level wage gaps, which tend to be much larger. If you took all the barriers and you put all the similarities of a same-aged worker with the same experience on the job, same education level, everything the same, no time off for the mommy track, the wage gap still persists at about 91 cents, so women still make 91 cents to a man’s dollar if you stripped all of those factors away.”

Adjusted pay gaps examine factors such as differences in hours worked, professions chosen, education and job experience to account for disparities in pay. A popular myth exists, according to Cubbage, that the gap would “close” if taken into account that women choose lower-paying and less-stressful professions and are either unwilling or unable to achieve the same educational goals, often preferring to work fewer hours due to familial commitments. Modern studies account for these variables and control for them in their research as well according to Cubbage, still arriving at 91 to 93 cents-on-the-dollar in most adjusted wage analyses.

At lower paying professions, a pay gap of a few cents to a dollar per hour may trivialize statistics cited towards striving for wage equilibrium, but the most egregious differences are often observed in supervisorial or executive roles wherein annual salary disparities of thousands of dollars can exist, according to Cubbage. Ethnicity can even further segregate the spectrum of wages

“Women of color have a larger wage gap as well, because we are making comparisons with a White man’s earnings to, say, a Latina woman’s,” Cubbage said. “There’s already going to be a racial wage gap, which men experience as well, but then you compound that with gender and it becomes larger. It’s really hard to tease it out to give one specific number, but a pretty stable statistic is that a Latina woman makes 54 cents to a White man’s dollar.”

A recent Danish study determined a distinct correlation between the birth of a woman’s first child and the sharpest disparity in gender pay gaps. With factors such as educational and job background differences as well as maternity leave absences and part-time salary differences having an established history of research since the 1970s, the recent study sought to explore more detailed data and examine why the wage gap exists rather than simply establish that it does.

“Specifically, just after the birth of the first child, women start falling behind men in terms of their occupational rank (as ordered by earnings or wage rate levels) and their probability of becoming manager,” the Danish study said. “Moreover, women switch jobs to firms that are more ‘family friendly’ as measured by the share of women with young children in the firm’s workforce.”

“There is also the issue that women are not socialized to try to negotiate for higher pay,” said Allison Camelot, chair of the Sociology Department at Saddleback College. “It also goes to women maybe not asking for the promotion or asking for an increase in pay, because they are less likely to be socialized to do that, whereas men are.”

In April 2014, former president Barack Obama signed an executive order that sought to protect non-retaliation for disclosure of compensation information. In a common practice prior to the order, several U.S. companies engaged in “pay secrecy” practices, wherein discussion about compensation among employees was either discouraged or prohibited by corporate policy.

Although the National Labors Relations Act of 1935 specifically forbade this, restrictions in the law led to limitations in enforcement. For instance, under the NLRA, supervisors, independent contractors and agricultural laborers do not qualify as “employees” by definition. Certain exceptions are understandable, such as for those in human resources positions with vast knowledge of many personnel members’ salaries, but other facets of the administration allowed loopholes to permeate the culture for decades.

The intention is that if women find out their male co-workers are earning more, they can do something about it,” NPR’s Tom Dreisbach wrote.

According to Rosemaria Altieri, senior director of human resources at Southern California News Group, although a welcome acknowledgement, the executive order did not bring the greatest social change simply by bringing awareness.

“People have always discussed their salary. The challenge was getting management or ownership to make a change,” Altieri said.

As social movements continue to increase in frequency and audience reached, as observed in the recent #metoo campaign or #enoughisenough gun violence protests among others, perhaps the atmosphere is heading in the direction of positive change to also evolve for women seeking pay equilibrium, as Altieri hopes.